Johnson County cyclist group proposes changes to bridge reconstruction

BY NICK HASSETT | APRIL 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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A street that many consider to be the most direct route connecting east and west Iowa City will be getting a $2 million makeover, and local cyclists hope to make some major changes to the upcoming project.

The Burlington/Madison Intersection and Median Project was outlined in the city’s Capital Improvement Program for fiscal 2010. It provided a plan for construction from the Iowa River to the Madison Street intersection, including signal improvements and the addition of left-turn lanes.

The project was intended to address pedestrian and traffic flow issues associated with the University of Iowa Campus Recreation & Wellness Center and was slated for completion in the spring of 2010, but it was delayed because it awaited funding. The program received funding approval from the Iowa City City Council in September 2011.

But as the project lies in fiscal limbo, a Johnson County bicycle-advocacy group has stepped in.

Think Bicycles contacted city staff to discuss bicycle traffic in the corridor and took issue with the way the city planned to address bicycle traffic by way of dedicated bike lanes and the use of sharrows, or shared lanes.

“In the current plan, the bike lanes start and stop on the bridge,” said Martha Norbert, a member of Think Bicycles. “In regular traffic, that’s dangerous. It’s going from protected space to unprotected space in narrow lanes, and that’s pretty scary for inexperienced cyclists.”

The group thinks the city’s current plan would increase conflicts between cyclists and motorists, claiming cyclists would be forced to merge into a shared lane at an inopportune time in eastbound traffic.

Think Bicycles outlined several changes the members would make to the city’s plan, including bike lanes that extend across the bridge as well as “cycle tracks,” a separate facility used exclusively by cyclists, to and from Madison Street.

City engineer Ron Knoche said Think Bicycle’s concept had many good aspects, but the city still had some issues with the plan.

“The concerns from our standpoint have to do with who maintains the cycle tracks, as well as the transition from the westbound movement from Madison Street,” he said. “Getting from the dedicated [cycle track] to the bike lane on the bridge may lead to a conflict point on the street.”

Knoche also said the Iowa Department of Transportation would have to be involved in the approval of the Think Bicycles concept, because Burlington Street is also Highway 1.

Through a consultation with RDG Planning and Design, Think Bicycles has estimated its changes would add an additional $100,000 to the current $2 million price tag.

However, Knoche said the additional cost would not pose a problem for the funding of the project, and thought other sources of funding may be available as a result of the proposed changes.

Currently, the city is in the process of attaining funding for the project and is looking at several funding sources and grants from the state and federal government.

City Councilor Rick Dobyns thought the additional cost posed by Think Bicycles proposal was acceptable.

“I think it’s very reasonable, especially if [the city] gets additional funding from other sources,” he said.

Dobyns said he couldn’t guess on what the other councilors would think on the matter but suspected they would support it, starting the process for the changes to be made.

“If the council is interested in the project, typically it won’t go in until the next budget cycle, a year, year and a half from now,” he said. “That’s a question to be answered on Tuesday.”

And as a cyclist himself, Dobyns understands the street.

“I work at the university and the hospital, so I know that route pretty well,” he said. “I bike to work every day.”

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